I’m almost through with Sweetening the Pill. It’s certainly a loaded book, with lots to say. And while I can see the bias, it usually has a nugget of truth underneath it all. I appreciated the science, the history, even the principles written. I don’t totally buy that a suppressed woman is best for a capitalist society, but certainly see how profit has overpowered (and grossly misconstrued) corporate America’s desire to “help” women.
With that being said – I want to talk about how the pill plays into our sexuality. So for now, put the medical stuff* aside.
By definition, every woman is changed biologically by hormonal contraception. Obviously, not all women experience physical changes – or at least noticeable physical changes. This means whether or not you actually recognize it, the pill does alter you.
There’s so much pressure in the media, in the magazines, even in groups of friends to “own our sexuality”. The problem is, people don’t really know how to go about that. Whether you are in “abstinence only” culture or “women’s bra burning feminism” culture, it’s darn difficult to figure out what our sexuality means when we get so many mixed messages. Is being sexually empowered having a lot of sex? How much? With multiple partners? How many partners? Is it owning our body? What does that really mean??? What about the women that don’t enjoy it? Or don’t even want to have it? Women don’t often talk honestly about their sex lives because we think they’re supposed to be a certain way. So we lie. Out of embarrassment of not looking “sexually empowered”, which gets us nowhere. I’ve had more than one friend confess to me, “I don’t enjoy my sex life.” But this is only in the very private moments of women sharing from sister to sister. These women are still valuable, and talking honestly about the confusion of sexuality is important. How are we supposed to go about this in our twenties??
Society has worked very, very hard to sever the tie between sex and reproduction. And having successfully done so I think women are still trying to navigate that. Because let me tell you, there aint nothing like phase 2 to prove that sexuality and reproduction are very much tied.
Let’s talk about phase 2. It’s those 7 days or so that my fertile window is open. I have so much more energy, I am positive and motivated. Often times, this is when I knock out tasks I really want to or have to do. I really can feel a difference in how I approach things. I feel…..feminine and….flirty. I could conquer the world! Talk about owning your body. I look at Victoria’s Secret models and think “Psh…they’ve got nothing on me!” This is entirely hormonal. My body makes me feel this way and I love it. Our twenties are a very….powerful age. I recognize I might not feel this way forever.
Then I think about how the pill robs women of that.
Literally, because it prevents ovulation.
Women never feel phase 2 on the pill.
Maybe you never feel the lows (PMS) but you also never feel the highs (ovulation). Granted, you never feel it post-menopausal either. But I have many years to go until I cross that bridge. (And I probably won’t be writing 20somethingcatholic then either…..maybe I’ll be writing 50somethingcatholic – how to navigate theology of the body post menopause. Who knows?)
I suddenly understand why women struggle so much with navigating sexuality in the modern world. We get these messages of “Be sexy! Own it!” yet many have been robbed of what physically makes us feel that. In Holly Grigg Spall’s words “We act sexy in compensation for not feeling sexy.” I’m not blaming the pill single-handedly for women not feeling sexually empowered, but it certainly makes it more difficult. Discovering our sexuality is hard enough without the influence of artificial hormones. I think in the budding beginnings of a relationship, our bodies overpower the suppression of ovulation. But years down the road, when things settle, we notice our feminine vitality is, uh, well, lacking. Then we think that’s normal. Well, love loses it luster, right? That’s the way it’s supposed to be. I argue not. Our reproductive years beg for that vitality.
Holly would not agree with me, but I think women struggle sexually because reproduction and sex are so tied, yet the media constantly shoves at us that they are not. (Yea…there’s the Catholic in me coming out.) Do not misread me ok?? This does not mean every act ends up with a baby. I’m not saying we should only ever, ever, ever have intercourse to only strictly procreate. I’m about as sex-positive as it gets! I’m only saying that biologically, sex and reproduction are intrinsically connected. We can embrace that to our advantage. And the more society objectifies, sells, conceals the female body, the less we have a shot at ever being “sexually empowered”.
Now that I’ve probably offended more people than I want to…just think about men for a second. Men are so dearly attached to their reproductive parts. (Then I think about how they are constantly in phase 2. Suddenly everything makes so much more sense.) We women are so often more than happy to terminate our parts for the sake of pregnancy prevention. I think if we want to really own our sexuality, something our reproductive years beg for, what we have to ask ourselves is “Is this worth it to me?”
Remember, we don’t have to wreck our sexuality in the name of pregnancy prevention. There are alternatives.
*While highly overprescribed, the pill does have a medical place for women with intense endometriosis. I wish they were able to cure endo, but currently the best option is to halt periods all together because the shedding of the fallopian tubes is so intensely painful. And because I always have to throw the word choice out there, I do support access to contraception. I have simply made it my mission to show women alternatives for those that want them.